Celebrating Poetry


Last month, in the UK, we celebrated National Poetry week. I have to admit I’m a big lover of poetry. I teach poetry, I write poetry and I read poetry. Aside from eating the damned stuff I don’t think there’s much else you can do with it. As part of our town’s national poetry week celebrations, I was invited to read some of my compositions over two days at two separate events.

It was a genuine honour.

I belong to a group of serious minded poets who had been working together to produce pieces that were heavily influenced by classic poets. This meant that one of the first readings was a response to Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky,’ a contemporary fairytale of chemically induced surrealism. Another was a dark and haunting piece written in response to Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar.’ Personally, I was heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and his enchanting ‘Annabel Lee.’

This was what I came up with:

Annabel Lee visits Blackpool

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee
And she worked by the tower, for three quid an hour
Near that bingo that sells the cheap tea.

I’d just left school and she’d just left school
In this kingdom by the sea
This was back in an age, before minimum wage
I and my Annabel Lee
When three quid an hour, wasn’t bad by the tower
In this kingdom by the sea

We worked day-long shifts, selling rock and crap gifts
I and my Annabel Lee
We worked all summer-through, flogging plastic dog-poo
To those visiting by the sea.
And we loved with a love that was more than a love
I and my Annabel Lee
With a love that the managers’ watching above
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago
In this kingdom by the sea
That the bosses, those tossers, who wielded the power
Came down from their seats in their ivory tower
Decrying and lying, defying belief
Blaming her, claiming that she was a thief
And sacking my Annabel Lee
Cruelly firing – no chance of rehiring –
My beautiful Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those bosses that tore us apart
Yes, she’d taken some stock, Twenty gross of cheap rock
But she also had stolen my heart
And some cuddly toys, And kids hats for small boys
But she also had stolen my heart
And a case of key rings, And some other cheap things
But she also had stolen my heart

Now the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of my beautiful Annabel Lee.
She works on a car boot, selling dodgy nicked loot
From this kingdom by the sea
And the managers watching, covetously above
Can never dissever my soul from the love
Of my beautiful Annabel Lee
And, cos I keep supplying, the stuff that she’s buying
In this kingdom by the sea.
Our love is uplifting, because I keep shoplifting
For my beautiful Annabel Lee.

As writers, we seldom get the chance to read our material direct to an audience. It’s a shame, really, because the English language has a heritage of being spoken rather than written and stories are supposed to be told rather than read. Remember the excitement of having a parent read bedtime stories? Or the pleasure of hearing someone special recite a few favourite lines of love poetry meant just for you? To me, those moments are a reminder of how words are meant to slip from someone’s lips direct to the ear – without print and page coming between them.

I know it’s exciting to see words in print, and books on shelves, and royalties on cheques, but there are times when we forget that one of the reasons so many of us write is because we want to excite an audience with our words. Reading to a crowd of enthusiasts, watching them smile in appreciation and silently coax you to continue, is probably one of the most rewarding forms of feedback this side of cold hard cash because it gives immediate feedback.

Of course, my idea of poetry seldom stretches much further than the words ‘light verse.’ In response to TS Elliot’s Macavity, I started off by reading Elliot’s opening verse, and then followed the narrative in my own vulgar and risqué fashion. I’ve never been a big fan of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and I happily took the chance to be mean with Elliot’s creations.

This is what I did to Macavity. Please keep in mind that the opening verse is wholly Elliot’s. The rest is my response.

Macavity – The Mystery Cat
T S Eliot

Macavity’s a mystery cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there.

* * * * *

Addendum to Macavity

Macavity, Macavity, the master of depravity
He’s sired a million kittens and filled every tabby’s cavity
He prowls the streets from midnight, and he howls the streets ’til dawn
And when the daylight breaks you’ll find him crapping on the lawn.

Macavity the carnal cat, who eats and sleeps and ruts
From the moment that he wakes you’ll see him licking at his nuts
He doesn’t chase the mice or rats, he’s isn’t quite that fussy
Instead he spends his waking hours trying find a female pussy.

Macavity the recuperating cat – the much beloved pet
The cat who’s making progress since returning from the vet
Macavity the neutered cat, recovering in the chair
Who goes to lick his nuts and finds his nuts no longer there.

Macavity, Macavity, I’ve cut short your depravity
To get your tackle working now, would defy the laws of gravity
Macavity – castrated cat: living quiet by the sea
I know just how you feel, cos my wife’s done that to me.

Ashley Lister
November 2009

“The Write Stuff” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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